Help with My 4 Year Old.

Updated on September 06, 2008
C.K. asks from Olympia, WA
10 answers

I am having some issues with my 4 year old and his attitude. He's always had some issues because he doesn't communicate well but it seems that lately it's been getting worse. He's constantly telling me "no", yelling at me, and giving me attitude. I can tell him to do something and all I get is a "no". If I try to discipline he throws a fit and runs upstairs. I've tried time outs, time in his room, and talking. I can't go anywhere because he won't stay with me. I think it will get better once he goes back to school tomorrow but there's still hours when he's home. Please help. Thanks.

I want to add a few things based on the responses I've gotten so far. He is already in speech therapy and has been for almost a year. He'd already started school at the end of last year and did really well there. I'm sure that part of his frustration stems from not being able to tell me exactly what he wants. My issue is....he still has these issues. I'd like to think I'm a patient person but it wears me down. My husband is starting a business venture with a friend and all his extra time is spent working on that. Maybe the fact that I'm the only disciplinarian has something to do with it. As for wording etc. every "no" has a short explanation that follows. There's no point in saying no if you don't try to correct the issue. He used to be a really happy child. I think he's still happy but only when he gets exactly what he wants. Otherwise, it a screaming, crying fight.

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answers from Portland on

The part of your post that caught my attention is the "he doesn't communicate well". That can be a huge source of frustration for children. My son was 3 when we started realizing that he really was having a hard time communicating. We got a referral to a speech therapist, and some of his skills were at the level of an 18 month old! I was horrified; and embarrassed that I had somehow failed him. So he spent about 6 months in speech, by the time he was done he was 4 and all his speech assessments were at or above the level of a 4 year old. These skills improved our relationship with him dramatically. He has really blossomed now that he can communicate with us. It has been a really great experience and so worth while. So I'm not sure if this is at all related to your sons issue but I thought it was worth mentioning. Maybe get him an assessment. If your insurance wont cover it the ESD (educational services district) for your area is required to give him an assessment and therapy if they find he needs it. Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

It's hard to know with the brief information you give, but children pretty much learn what they see modeled by the significant people in their lives. THE primary mode of learning in young kids is imitation, so you could be seeing a small, if rather magnified, mirror of your own attitudes. If you are unsympathetic to his desires and needs, and demanding in what you ask of him, he will return that, much exaggerated.

Do you ask him in a pleasant voice to fulfill your expectations? Do you routinely say please and thank you? Do you make a point of letting him know how much you appreciate his cooperation and positive moments? Are your requirements hard and inflexible? Do you intrude constantly into what he wants to be doing? Do you look at his play (which is his work) as having value? Do you find moments to engage with him in his preferred activities? do you give him laughter and hugs for no good reason?

I kept these questions front and center raising my daughter, and she is doing the same with her son. Both were extraordinarily polite and cooperative and cheerful children. Having said that, your son could have sensory issues, and the communication problem could certainly be causing him frustration which spills over on you. It might be good to have a careful evaluation by your pediatrician if you think the static runs deeper than toddler behavior.

I'd strongly recommend that you fit a few parenting books into your life. Yes, you are busy, and can't imagine how you'd find the time. And afterward, you will wonder how you ever got by without the wealth of practical advice that makes your relationship easier.

Good luck, mommy. This is a trying time in a child's life, and consequently, in yours, too. If you lay careful groundwork now, coming years will become easier.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Hi C.,

I think Peg has some good points. We as parents, get so involved with our schedule and what we need to get done that we forget that our children are people too. I think that with a child with communication issues (my step-son has autism) it is really important to take the time to give them extra help. Get down to his level with patience and compassion and listen. "I see by your face, you are angry that I need you to put your toys away. I know you like playing with these. You can play with them again after we get home".

I also really try to remember to warn my kids what will be coming next. You know in your head what your plans are, but kids need time to mentally prepare for the next thing. "We will need to pick up toys in 5 minutes, so we can go...". "You now have 2 minutes until it's time to pick up..", etc. This will help them prepare for the transition into the next activity and doesn't feel so abrupt. I strongly believe that everyone, children included, deserve respect. This doesn't mean that kids get their way or can do what they want, but it does mean that they deserve our attention and manners. Sometimes, it's all about the phrasing,too. It is easy to get into the habit of "asking". "Will you pick up your toys?" instead of "Pick up your toys please". Children give respect to those who give it to them and expect it in return. A calm parent usually results in a calm child. I have also noticed that children who say "NO" a lot, hear it a lot. It becomes really easy to say "NO" to toddlers, constantly, but what they really need is to hear more vocabulary usage to help them learn new words. "NO" can become "Hitting is not allowed", "That behavior is not OK", "Chairs are for sitting on", "Toys don't belong in our mouths", "Use a quiet voice please", etc. I guarantee that if you change your approach, facial expressions, and language usage, your son will change his as well.
My final tip is to realize that sometimes we need to change our expectations. Children don't have long attention spans and it is hard for them just to wait in line, be dragged around a grocery store, etc. It takes extra effort, but be prepared with games (in the grocery store...Can you find an A? or something red? can you sing me a song? What sound does a monkey make?), books, snacks, etc to keep them occupied. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Doesn't communicate well? That is a red flag. I am not saying this is the issue, but I have the same thing with my son. I can patiently and quietly tell him all day to do something but if he's not in the mood it's a no. Even if it's do you want ice cream! I had my son tested about a year ago and it turns out he's frustrated due to a development delay that could have cost him being kicked out of schools later due to behavorial issues that stem from that. With a special school (they are usually funded through the state and free for your child to attend) they narrowed down and fingered the problem as a communication disorder. He now recieves one on one help with people who have degrees and specialize in child development and communication. It was an overnight miracle!!! I cried I was so relieved. Within a few weeks he started clearly asking for things, explaining why he didn't want to and so on. My family and friends were stunned at the 180. He still acts out as this is an on-going process but this is so much better than him dealing with issues later in school and being medicated.

You can start one of two ways. You can either contact your local health department and get in touch with their specialist. The one here came to my home for the initial evaluation. She observed and played (or tried to) with my son for over two hours. She then said something was definitely amiss and submitted her report to his doctor and we made a follow-up behavorial appointment. A behavioral appointment is way longer than a check-up so you don't have to feel rushed and can really discuss with his doctor the issues you are experiencing. The doctor then creates a report and submits it to the school. They also did a home visit with me and we put together Gabriel's new school plan from bus schedule to how his learning day would go and so on. From start to finish he was in school within three weeks.

Now we can go to resturaunts, stores, he can walk to the car. It's been amazing - I didn't know that with such disorders oftentimes kids don't understand danger.

I know he's already in school but if there's a real issue they may not be able to handle it properly.

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answers from Portland on

Does not communicate well also caught my attention. My grandson, who is now 5, was evaluated and is being treated by the Multnomah County Intermediate School District. Federal law requires that all school districts provide this service without cost. He's been in the program since he was 2 months shy of 3.

He has speech apraxia. He was only saying one word at a time and often we couldn't understand that one word. In speech apraxia the nerve connection between the brain and the mouth has not developed. As a result he knows what he wants to say but his mouth can't say it. The purpose of speech therapy is to awaken those nerves so that his mouth can say the words. He also has some signs that he may have broad spectrum autism disorder.

He had already figured out for himself that he could point to what he wanted. But when we didn't understand he became extremely frustrated and usually have a temper tantrum.

He has been receiving speech therapy and his mother is supported by a team that includes a play therapist and a social worker who interfaces with resources.

perhaps because of his inability to communicate he became more angry to the point that he was enrolled in a therapeutic preschool. Again there is not financial cost.

He is starting Kindergarten on Friday. Although his speech is improved his speech is fragmented. He frequently doesn't use full sentences and he's still unable to form his mouth to make certain speech sounds. HIs team evaluated his abilities again and decided he should go to a special ed kindergarten that focuses on speech.

He is better at both trying to talk and rarely has a temper meltdown. Now he plops himself on the floor and cries. He responds quickly and well to being held when this happens. He still cuddles in my arms on my lap as a baby would do.

The key in working with him is compassion, consistency in providing for emotional needs and in discipline. My granddaughter's school's social worker gave my daughter a one page explaination of a discipline technique. It works well with both children.

The focus is on sending him to his room at early stages of him not co-operating so that he can regain control of himself. It is sort of like a time out. When he's stopped crying he can come out of the room and my daughter will ask him if he knew why he was sent to his room. He usually nods his head and says enough words that he can be understood. She then asks him to say "sorry" and then she gives him a hug. This works with his 8 yo sister too.

In this technique the consequence is always being sent to his or her room. Then the follow up talk about why he was sent there, a verbal sorry and a hug.

This technique has the advantage of dealing with the problem directly. Both my daughter and I would try to convince him or his sister that they should do it or not do it until we lost our patience and yelled.

Neither child would stay in a timeout at home. They do at school. We weren't consistent in following thru. This technique is much easier to execute. Putting them back in their room until they are able to be calm, acknowledge what they did to get them sent to their room was much easier than trying to get them to stay in one place. I think that this technique also gives each child a way to learn how to control themselves, it separates them from their mother, etc. so that the mother is able to be calm. In a timeout, one has to moniter the child. When the child gets off the chair or the spot the mother has to deal with that. Tension and anger build up on both sides.

So, yelling no and giving attitude would require that he go to his room. I say you are being rude, go to your room. Even at the beginning of using this technique they quickly learned to stay in their room and no longer test to see if we mean it.

Chase has learned to be patient as we try to figure out what he wants. The therapist recommended using pictures on cards so that he can show that. My daughter didn't try that. He is now able to get most things for himself. ie. pour his own milk or juice, get a glass of water, find a snack. It's the more abstract things that give me trouble. He likes to point at things and say the name but often I can't tell what he's pointing too and can't understand the word. He patiently keeps pointing and saying the word until eventually I get it. His sister and mother are much more able to understand him than I am.

A part of the treatment is to stick with him as he tries to say something and when you figure it out repeat the word correctly, use it in a sentence with emphasis on each word and then have him repeat you. Do this as often as you're able. It's time consuming and can be frustrating. It has to be done in a playful way.

I describe these speech training skills so that you can use them if your son is just slow in developing speech. Going thru the "drill" with him may help him catch up. Or it may make him even angrier because he can't say the word or doesn't even want to. That's OK. The way you get him to go along with the "program" is to always react in a positive way.

It's working with my grandson because he's getting support from other people who are not emotionally invested in getting him to talk. They go slowly and with time the child becomes "trained" to learn words.

It is important to never lose patience or express anger if the child doesn't try or is unable to say the word. He gets praise both when he says the word or tries to say the word. If he refuses to say the word, then one can say, "that's OK. I'm sure you'll be able to say (the word) next time.

The same goes for our attitude about misbehavior. I'm sorry that you were rude to me. Now you must go to your room.

I suggest that you arrange for your son to be evaluated to be sure that he's just a slow learner. It is important for him to be able to communicate before he starts school and to have continued success thruout the years. We kept thinking my grandson was just a slow learner. We almost waited too long to get him into speech therapy. If he'd started when he was 2 he might have been able to start school in a regular Kindergarten. I hope that you're not facing the same difficulties that we had and are having with Chase. It is never to late to get started. It takes some kids longer than others to catch on no matter why they have a learning disability.

Perhaps when you say he has difficulty communicating you mean that he's often angry or impatient. That is a behavioral issue that has to be addressed before he starts school. Studies have shown that students who are not successful during their first years at school ore the ones most likely to drop out and engage in dangerous behavior. I think the school district can help with that, also.

My philosophy, after taking child development classes is to stay away from using the "good boy", "bad boy" phrases. What the child is doing doesn't make him good or bad. What he does or says is what is good or bad. When we are raising children we are teaching them how to behave appropriately. So I say those words are inappropriate. They're rude. You could say the words are bad or the attitude is bad if that's easier for you. It took me awhile to remove the words good and bad from my vocabulary with the kids. They still slip out in moments of stress.
When we describe their behavior we are helping them to learn what is acceptable or unacceptable.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Eeeek! Sounds a bit like what I'm going through and my son just entered kindergarten. My son is very physical. Some things that are helping me are an egg timer, lots of patience, and a "three strikes you're out" rule. The egg timer is to help establish when you want your child to complete a task that you give them. This way they KNOW when their time is up. They have consequences afterward. This also helps when you place them in time out. In my home, time out starts when my son is quiet. If he's not quiet, he sits until he is. Believe me...they pick up FAST. And if in the middle of time out, they start up again...start the time out and don't begin until they chill out. Took me about a week. Have to have lots of patience. I'm not one for always holding true to that. I try...believe me...I think all parents make the attempt to try. My 3 rules or you're out is a good one in my house, especially if it's something that he knows better on. First time I tell him don't do something and why. Second time I tell him not to do it and the consequence that follows. Third time, I follow through. It's hard for me to take my son to places as well. My son has Sensory Integration Dysfunction/Disorder. It's where his senses go on overload. In his case, he starts becoming physical and misbehaves in order to try and solve the overwhelming feeling he gets. I've been trying to find ways to help him deal with this. Not easy. I have more ideas if you want to know. Write back. :D Hope this helps. ~B.

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answers from Portland on

You mentioned the fact that words are a difficult form of communication for your son. Try picture stories instead. I can assure you they will work. Simple stick figure drawings of what you want him to do takes the emotionality out of a heated situation and helps him to cut through the communication issue.

If you know there is a typically difficult situation coming up-- trip to the store-- draw a series of comic strip style stick figure drawings of how you expect him to behave (Here's mommy with "Tommy" standing right next to her. Here's Tommy helping mommy put things she's asked for in the cart. etc) and what the consequences look like when he does (Here are mommy and Tommy leaving the store. Look at how happy they are. And look Mommy even has time to read/play with Tommy when they get home)and a separate story line showing what happens when he doesn't (Oh no! Tommy ran away from mommy. Look at how sad mommy is. Shoot, Tommy has to stay in his room when he gets home now. Look how sad he is. ) Then have him choose which 'story' he thinks would be best for him.(They always choose the good one :)) When it seems like he may be teetering just whip the story out and refresh his memory.

I tell you it works like a charm. I learned this while teaching and have used it for over 15 years, both in the classroom and with my own youngest, who has minor communication issues. It also is sooo easy all you need is a scrap peice of paper, a pencil and the ability to draw circles and lines--REALLY that's all the sophisicated you'll need to et with your drawings.

Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You have some wonderful ideas provided here, and I would like to add a couple of things. Since your son is in therapy, you have probably considered teaching him some sign language, but did not see that here. Some therapists feel signing cuts down on language effort, but I think giving the child words, whether verbal or signing, is very helpful when it reduces frustration levels. My daughter is an interpreter and many kids learn to speak well eventually, but signing uses a different set of connections to express ideas and can bridge the developmental gap, especially for basic needs, expression of hurt, or requests for help. Signs that are more fun are descriptive - colors, animals, shapes, emotions. You might try a few signs and see if it helps, then practice the verbal words secondarily.

Next, many parents do not realize that the most effective discipline is done by leading. Staying ahead of your child in preparing or planning activities, chores, consequences, therapy sessions, bed times, playing alone, etc. is a matter of preparedness, ie, not allowing too much down time for a child who doesn't handle it well. Giving them hints on what's next (as previously mentioned) can make all the difference. Leading doesn't mean you have to have every minute planned, but rather that you have handy options to offer, and that you and your husband EACH have focused one-on-one time with each child every day, in child-led activities. Parents can be distracted by their responsibilities and overlook childrens' need for undivided attention. Giving a child some options you can live with is a great way to do this: "I don't have to go back to my desk just yet, would you like me to read you a story, or shall we go outside and play ball for a little bit?" In addition to parent-led activities (helping fix dinner, cleaning house, practicing music, baking, prayer time), your child gains skills, which builds self-confidence, and leads to a more competent and happy child.

A specific example of making a parent-led activity into child-controlled situation (teaching self control): I got tired of saying no to my kids when we went shopping, so I told them (ages 5 and 6) that they were not going to say "I want..." any more because I did not like having to tell them no. Instead, they could say, "I like..." and we could look at the thing, admire it, and move on. If it was something they wanted, they could say, "I REALLY LIKE this!" and I would know they were asking to get it. Most of the time we would not be able to get it, but if we could, then I would get one item for them. Next we went to Costco to practice. They both had it down pat by the end of the trip. Then we heard another mom telling her child, "NO! I TOLD YOU we were only buying what's on the list, now stop asking!" Both my kids turned to me with big eyes and open mouth, aware of their new skill and how much happier we all were. (I got my kids each a toy to thank them for playing along with me.)

Best wishes for a dramatically better life this next week!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I have a son who will be four next month, same issues at times! He can go from loving one minute, to sheer screaming and temper tantrum bc he cannot express himself. If I don't understand him (and his little voice sometimes doesn't form words correctly), I ask him to repeat himself. This can be the trigger to bring on the tantrum...or not. I never know!

Sometimes doing what he least expects is a fun way to deal with this. I say, Hey, come here and give me a hug first! And he is so taken aback by my response (plus he loves hugs), that we relate on a physical touch level instead of communicate with voices...and it circumvents the tantrum.

Not sure on other ideas...I'll be watching to see if I pick up any tips for myself as well!

All the best to you -

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I had a 4 yr old that sounded like that and I am just now trying to get some help and my boy is almost 8. I can tell you that if you continue with what you have been doing, things will probably progress. This is something you need to find answers for now and stick to your new plan. And if it helps.... please notify me. I'm still looking for advice on a very similar issue.

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